Stories of Refugee Week

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29 June 2020

Despite this year’s limitations, Refugee Week remains an important moment for Sacred Heart College, Newtown, St Anthony’s School, Melton South, and MacKillop Catholic Regional College, Werribee.

Clairvaux house at Sacred Heart College partnered with CatholicCare’s Settle Well program to provide stationery and raise much-needed funds to support young refugees and asylum seekers in the Geelong area. Together with CatholicCare, teachers Alison Godbehear and Claire Connell put together a collection of learning resources that would help staff and students in ‘understanding the difference between a refugee and an asylum seeker’. ‘Understanding some of the terminology and some of the realities of the situation, like what might you be able to grab when you are fleeing an area all of a sudden, like looking for documentation that you’ve tried to put away safely which means it’s not always available at the last minute’, added Claire.

Student mercy and mission leader, Isabelle Mendoza said: ‘The fair and human treatment of refugees and asylum seekers is important to me because even though they are in different circumstances, they are all humans just like myself. Being a refugee or asylum seeker should not be an excuse to hold them back from their human rights. We all need and want the same things, so why should they be treated any different?’

As part of their mercy work, the students were invited to think of ways that they could raise funds for the Settle Well program, while ‘being conscious of the fact that a lot of parents were suddenly in very different financial situations’, said Claire. ‘We set a physical or wellbeing challenge where the girls could identify something that they would like to commit to throughout the time that they were working remotely and it might be a physical challenge like walking each day, or going for family walks or spending time with their family; it could even be that they cook dinner once a week to give their parents a night off. Then they would ask their families and friends to sponsor them.’

One student in Year 8 has been working very hard to advocate for a family friend who is seeking asylum. ‘Two years ago, when she was in Grade 6, Beatrix got a petition signed, made up a book of accounts from refugees and presented it to Senator Sarah Henderson, and managed to get him an extension on his visa’, said Claire. ‘Unfortunately, the visa has expired and the process has started again for him. This time, Sacred Heart has written a letter of recommendation for him and also organised a petition that has been distributed throughout Sacred Heart, St Joseph’s, Clonard, St Ignatius, and Delmont High sent it to their staff as well because he was a student there. The petition has just clocked over 9,000 signatures. We were busy bees.’

At St Anthony’s School, ‘teachers have been able to use a range of texts and activities to acknowledge this special week’, said Caitlyn Lalor, EAL and community leader. ‘Last year, St Anthony’s was alive and happy when the Burmese and Sudanese communities prepared lunch for a staff of over 70 on a school closure day. The vibe in the school hall in preparation for the meal was full of music, dancing, children playing, and staff and families getting together to share something special in line with the theme “Share a Meal, Share a Story”.’

‘Some of the dishes prepared were “Ba Siy Batuu” – a meal consisting of corn and red beans, “Sabuti” made from beef bones, turmeric and paprika, and a variety of sweet treats prepared by our Sudanese families. It was wonderful to see staff and families sharing a meal together, and appreciating different food and culture. It has strengthened our relationship with these families and they know St Anthony’s is an inclusive and inviting place to belong to. We are looking forward to a time again when we can bring our community together in such a powerful and enjoyable way.’

The community at MacKillop Catholic Regional College has a great tradition of celebrating Refugee Week. Last year, 12 families painted their stories which were then placed together to form a ‘map of the world, telling 12 different stories, but displaying one message. A message of hope for the future and appreciation of the opportunities offered in Australia’. The school community is looking forward to following up their stories through art projects as soon as they get a chance.

Family art